Thule is dead-set on bringing their particular brand of Swedish design down from the roof of your car onto your backpack. Last year around this time I reviewed the Thule Capstone 22L and I was impressed with its design and construction; now I’ve had their new Stir 35L for a good PNW-style thrashing, and it’s time to give the low-down on this innovative new pack.
Thule Stir 35L Pack Features:
- High denier fabrics – 70 and 210 weaves
- Easy access lid with protective storm flap
- Daisy chain straps for easy attachment
- External stuff pocket with button closure
- Full-size bladder pocket
- StormGuard system combines a partial rain cover with a waterproof bottom liner to create a fully weather proof bag
- StormGuard provides better access, keeps gear drier and is more durable than a traditional rain cover
- 10 cm/4 in of torso adjustability provides the perfect fit
- MSRP: $139.95
Thoughtful design packs the heat
The first thing to know about the Thule Stir is that it’s trying hard to be innovative. Don’t get me wrong, it does this well – but if you’re looking for a traditional, predictable design then this isn’t the place to start. This is apparent pretty quickly after taking a glance at the jacket – the exterior is a very sleek weatherized high-denier nylon that comes up to an unconventional protective storm flap that buckles into place along notches on a webbing strap. And, of course, we have all of the normal features too: twin bottle holders with elasticized openings, twin hip belt pockets, a sternum pocket and a fully adjustable harness.
The pack itself is a very straightforward design – it’s basically one big tube, albeit with a small zippered pocket inside, a roomy bladder sleeve and a narrow stuff pocket outside. I used this pack for day hikes and training, and it’s really the perfect size for fast-and-light climbing jaunts where you need room for some technical gear and stuff for an emergency bivy. Running along the length of the main compartment is a side zipper, letting you access gear that’s down at the bottom without having to unpack the entire thing.
The Stir features two pretty unusual designs. The first is what they’re calling their StormGuard pack cover system. All of the new Thule packs have an integrated pack cover that stows away in a pocket in the bottom of the pack. When you pop it onto the pack, you’ll find that it only covers the top 3/4 of the backpack, securing tightly with toggles located just barely over the edge of the back panel. The remaining 1/4 of the pack is a waterproof 210D nylon weave and the overhang from the StormGuard cover is sufficient to cover up the transition area.
The other unusual design is up on top of the pack. The top of the pack gets cinched tight with a drawcord – naturally, it’s carefully designed so that you can tighten it up easily and it will automatically come undone when you pull on the covering flap to get into the pack. That covering flap is just a triangular area of fabric that comes up and attaches to a strip of bar-tacked webbing with a sleek metal hook.
I like the StormGuard – it saves weight and avoids the tendency of accumulating a pool of water in the pack cover, which sometimes happens on really wet days. I’m a little less convinced by the pack closure design. It’s quick to get in and out of and offers more protection than just a drawcord closure, but that flap won’t cover the opening if the pack is really crammed full. This is a marginal problem: on the one hand, that flap was never meant to be weatherproof (you have the StormGuard for that) but with a full pack it can make you look a little dorky, and if you’re being lazy about putting the StormGuard flap on because the weather is being ambivalent then you’ll likely find a little extra moisture inside of the pack.
All of the other features work well. I especially like Thule’s creative water bottle pockets, which have reinforced fabric going all along the lip but feature a stretch panel that creates a gusset on the lip. Even if the stretch fabric wears out and breaks over time, the full-strength lip fabric will take over and you’ll still have a strong pocket.
The harness and hip belt are adjustable via a simple Velcro system. I would have liked to see a forward-pull hip belt strap, but that’s tough to do with adjustable hip belts. I would also have liked to see a more robust compression system – the two thin straps work, but they’re located high on the pack and offer somewhat marginal compression. The Stir does a good job of supporting loads up to the high 20 lbs, in my testing. It really excels at and around the 20 lb mark.
- Creative design offers new and helpful approaches to old pack design problems
- Very light overall – just 2.2 lbs
- Ice axe attachment and accessible bottle pockets are especially nice for fast-and-light climbing
- StormGuard system works well, saves weight
- Drawcord closure is convenient and fast
- Protective top flap can be ineffective if the pack is full
- Overall, the pack is short on organizational features
- Compression strap placement/strength is lacking
The Bottom Line: Thule Stir 35L
It’s a creative pack. It’s a light pack. It’s a great pack. I think it’s fair to say that Thule is still dialing in how to make a great pack, and the Stir shows that they’re well on their way. It carries well and has all of the necessary features for alpine climbing, without much excess – that’s a good thing, and it shows in the low total weight. Plus, the fabric is bomber. The Stir (and all of the new Thule packs) are definitely worth a close look.
Buy now: Available from Backcountry.com